Inside the new Bellows Falls Pet Shoppe. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Inside the new Bellows Falls Pet Shoppe. (Zachary P. Stephens/Brattleboro Reformer)
Tuesday February 12, 2013

BELLOWS FALLS -- Paul Lucius' newest business venture could be your one-stop solution if your bunny has a hankering for some healthy snacks and you have a love of baseball cards.

The space at 35 Rockingham St. now houses the Bellows Falls Pet Shoppe and the Connecticut River Trading Company, with each taking up a section of the property. Lucius, who has owned Muddy Paws Canine Center in Westminster with his wife Doreen since 2004, initially planned to set up solely an animal supply store but it didn't exactly work out that way.

"Originally the intent was to open a pet shop with a boarding facility in the back, and it just didn't seem to fit in the neighborhood because there's no place to walk your dog," he said in his hybrid of a business Monday morning. The original name was going to be Body and Soul Pet Center, with the back section used as an extension where customers could personally groom their pets.

The pet store developed a split personality before it opened in mid-December and the couple filled the back section with things they had stored since Doreen's parents owned an auction house in Rowley, Mass.

After walking into the shop and through an aisle of pet supplies, one can see a smorgasbord of vintage items and collectibles for sale. Everything from nostalgic soda bottles and beer cans to baseball cards, furniture and jewelry is available in the back and a section of the front of the store.

Customers can consign single items or whole lots with Paul, who takes 30 to 40 percent of the profit. He said he will not charge a monthly rent, unlike many antiques stores.

But Lucius' passion -- and that of his wife -- is pet supplies, which makes up about 70 percent of the business. He and Doreen are animal lovers and excited to share their knowledge and information with both locals and tourists.

"It's fantastic. I love the location, the people are great. I try to catch the people who wouldn't go past (Route) 121. Most of those people, they go that far and then they head back into Bellows Falls or they head up to Saxtons River," he said. "There's not a lot down in Westminster to go see. Even the tourists don't go past 121. We always thought we could catch the tourists that came into the area -- the skiers and the summer tourists -- and we also wanted a lot of the Bellows Falls people. Down at the other store, we don't have a large Bellows Falls market."

Doreen said the couple's goal is to inform customers about the best options for their pets, especially canines.

"It's what I've always done. I haven't done anything else but work with dogs for 32 years," she said at Muddy Paws, while petting Harley, a large dark mutt belonging to one of her clients, as her own 11-year-old Dotson scampered around looking for attention. "(We want) to share information. We're both big into educating people."

The couple opened the new business with their own money and took something from the Rockingham Revolving Loan Fund, which is aimed to help small enterprises sprout up in town.

Rockingham Development Director Francis "Dutch" Walsh said he wishes the Luciuses well and any new company is good for a community if it lasts, complements other businesses, provides a unique service and enhances the area.

Paul Lucius said the property's landowner offered a great rate and he made the decision to open up shop. The majority of his inventory includes foods and snacks for pets from dogs to turtles as well as leashes, toys and informational books. And he hopes business isn't limited to people with dogs and cats.

"I've always felt there was a fit for small animals here. You have to go to Keene (N.H), you've got to go to Brattleboro or you've got to go to Claremont (N.H). It's a 20-mile trip," he said. "Yesterday, I had someone come in and get guinea pig food, get the treats, get the hay. It was convenient for her not to have to go 20 miles to spend $20.

"And someone bought a hamster wheel at 5:30 the other night," he went on to say.

He added, however, that he will not sell any live animals.

Lucius said he has developed a positive reputation in town and plans to keep it that way.

"We stand behind everything we sell. We guarantee it. I personally guarantee it, whether the manufacturer guarantees it or not," he said. "You don't find that in most places."

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.